Cashback sites/websites reward their members by returning a percentage of the income they receive from sales they direct to online businesses/retailers. While bricks and mortar retailers have a long history of providing loyalty programs that give a form of cashback -- such as Tesco's clubcard -- this page will deal directly with websites whose primary business model is to provide cashback. How cashback sites work is simple:
1) A user signs up for a membership account at a cashback site.
2) The new member then visits the cashback site (topcashback, kidstart, quidco etc) and clicks on a link (contains a tracking code/cookie) that will transfer them to the retailer of their choice.
3) The member makes a purchase of goods/services at the retailer.
4) The purchase (may need to meet criteria) will then be tracked and added to the members cashback account.
The amount of potential cashback earnings given to members differs with each cashback site, but, in 2021, the Quidco homepage stated that: "Our average active member pockets £300 each year". There is no standard amount of cashback given by each retailer listed on a cashback site. Likewise, potential earnings differ between the various cashback platforms. The amount of retailers who work with cashback sites fluctuates, but the big cashback sites tend to have in the region of 4500-5000 retailers to choose from. Cashback sites are generally free to join, but some provide 'paid' plus accounts.
With the UK slowly evolving into a cashless society, where financial transactions are conducted via digital payment systems rather than with physical banknotes or coins, the potential for cashback platforms to offer earnings for purchases made at bricks and mortar retailers has significantly increased. Therefore, in the near future, expect cashback platforms to begin offering smartphone apps that track purchases made with digital payment systems at bricks and mortar retailers.
A little history
Within the UK, cashback sites resulted from the development of affiliate marketing: This is where retailers pay 3rd party websites (called an affiliate) a commission of each sale they direct to them. Retailers who offer affiliate marketing run a referral program via one of two methods:
1) Standalone (for example: Amazon and eBay)
2) Intermediary affiliate network (for example: Tradedoubler, Commission Junction, Affiliate Window, DGM).
Due to the complexity of running an affiliate referral program -- creating unique tracking links and cookies -- the majority of retailers tend to work with intermediary affiliate networks. Some of the first UK businesses to provide an affiliate referral program were: Amazon, Littlewoods Index, Ebay, Currys, Asos, PC World, Dixons, Argos, Debenhams, Kays, Comet, Jungle, Superfi, YOOX, HMV, Dial-A-Phone, Phones4U and Carphone Warehouse.
In the late 1990s the earliest affiliates, who drove traffic to retailers, were shopping directory websites: These sites were simple a list of retailers. Due to the success and profitability of shopping directories, more and more were made, until ecommerce serps were saturated with shopping directories. Cashback sites evolved the concept of a shopping directory by returning a percentage of their income back to their users. The amount of cashback sites is far fewer than with shopping directories: Due to the extra administration and complexity of running cashback membership, and the responsibility involved in handling the personal data of their members.
When cashback sites were originally launched in the 2000's they were accessed through a desktop or laptop computer. Cashback platforms are slowly evolving to work on smartphones via a smartphone app. Cashback apps allow users to link their payment card to the app and then shop at 'real world' bricks and mortar businesses for cashback.
Retailers on cashback sites
The following UK retailers can be found on cashback sites: Amazon, Ebay, booking.com, M&S, Currys PC World, Argos, trainline, Expedia, JD Sports, Uswitch, Gap, Adidas, Karen Millen, NordVPN, Matalan, Coach, EE, Tassimo, Garden of Life, Creat and Craft, Lands' End, H&M, Debenhams, George at Asda, MandMDirect, Ali Express, Boohoo, Studio, Topshop, House of Fraser, River Island, Dorothy Perkins, Boots, Very, AO, Wilko, Superdrug, Halfords, Apple, Lakeland, QVC, Viking, Littlewoods, Fortnum & Mason, Harvey Nichols, Leekes, Heel's, Amara, Hema, Selfridges, Wickes, Wayfair, Screwfix, B&Q, Holland and Barrett, The Body Shop, Ted Baker, Lloyds Pharmacy, Mankind, The Hut, and Pharmacy2U.
Tracking and earning issues
While tracking for the vast majority of purchases is recorded, it is not a guarantee, and topcashback.co.uk state that "anti-spyware, anti-virus, or other protection on your computer" can stop tracking links from working as they should. There is also the potential that a retailer can go bankrupt before the cashback site receives payment, or some smaller cashback sites may go bankrupt before payment is received by the member. Therefore, cashback earnings are not guaranteed and should never be relied upon.
Payment timeframe and options
The process of receiving cashback earnings will differ with each cashback site/platform. Cashback sites will typically have to wait for the 'returns and cancellations' period to finish, and then have to wait for retailers to verify the sale and send the sales income to them. It is impossible to give an exact timeframe for how long the process will take from purchase to withdrawal, but expect the overall timeframe to be months rather than days.
When a members cashback earnings are available to be withdrawn, what are the options? Typically the three options for withdrawing earnings are as follows: 1) Bank account using BACS; 2) Paypal, which is used by 150,000 websites; 3) Gift vouchers, examples of some gift vouchers are: Just Eat, ExperienceDays, M&S, Amazon, and Google Play.